With two sold-out shows, I’d say Smirkus’s first day in St. Johnsbury was a success! Although it was still raining (as seems to happen quite often!), after the second show I headed with many of the tour staff to Milk House, a nearby ice cream place, for maple creamees (for those not from Vermont, a maple creamee is maple-flavored soft-serve ice cream) were just what we needed after a long day of two shows. Getting to visit a local business was a cool experience; none of us are locals, and checking out these places that are unique to the town we’re in is a fun way to get to know the area on tour.
After ice cream, some of the staff gathered in the Chapiteau and practiced on some of the aerial apparatuses – rope, straps, and lyra. I couldn’t do much more than swing on the rope, but was able to jump up and hang from the lyra! Two of the tour staff – Andrew Adams, Rigger, and Eric Allen, Tent Crew – are both straps artists and former Smirkos, and their skills are beyond impressive: Andrew did a routine incorporating a black umbrella into his tricks, and Eric hung upside down from one arm! Concessionaire Joy Powers and Production Manager Josh Shack are former Smirkos as well. Everyone on the tour staff comes from such different backgrounds, and it’s exciting to see Trouper alumni return to tour as a part of the staff. It’s as if things are coming full-circle, and they’re giving back to and being a part of a community that shaped them growing up.
The troupers arrived on site Tuesday morning to warm-up and polish and rehearse their acts. After quesadillas and gazpacho for lunch, they got into costume for the show. As I began writing this, it was only a few minutes until the troupers would gather behind the Big Top for the pre-show Smirko Cheer, and the air backstage was buzzing with excitement. Jeff, our Backlot Manager, was fixing the side mirrors on the pick-up truck that hauls the Pie Car, and Trouper Sorrell Nielsen was practicing on the low wire that stands to the left of the backstage tent. Everything about the day was, in some ways, exactly the same as things were in Greensboro just a few days before, but in others, completely different. That’s something I’m coming to really love about tour – while there’s a certain uncertainty (and excitement!) in “jumping” to a new site every few days, there’s also a comforting feeling knowing that I’ll always have the same bunk to sleep in at night.
In addition to the Big Top Tour and School Residencies, Smirkus also has a Summer Camp, and we were lucky enough to be visited by the entire group of campers and counselors at Wednesday’s evening show! Before the show Troy Wunderle (Artistic Director and “the Wizard” in Oz Incorporated) asked them what they did in circus, and they enthusiastically shouted out their responses – clowning or juggling or aerials. Many of the current Troupers used to be campers –Sawyer Oubre was at Smirkus Camp last summer! – and many campers raised their hand when Troy asked if they dreamed of being a Trouper. It’s full circle, it seems, to be visited on tour by everyone at camp; walking around on stilts, Sawyer went over to the campers and they talked about the summer.
Thursday was Independence Day, but for the Smirkus folk it was business as usual, and after an early breakfast we began our jump to Saratoga Springs, New York. While on tour, the Troupers have homestays in each city; after their homestay families from St. Johnsbury dropped them off on site one last time, they got in vans to travel to their homestays in Saratoga Springs. Due to some issues with the trucks, we ended up stopped in Killington, Vermont for a few hours. Tour, I’ve learned, is full of these unexpected adventures, and so I took the opportunity to walk over to a nearby stream with Bonnie Kirchoff (Head Concessionaire), Joy Powers (Concessionaire), Honey (Joy’s dog), and Parker Bert (Percussionist) where we dipped our toes in the water.
Though the trip took longer than expected, by evening we had all made it to Saratoga in our various vehicles, and after loading out the trucks and working on set up, headed in to town for some fireworks! The Troupers had already made it to their homestay families, and some of them even ended up at the fireworks display as well. I’m constantly impressed by everything the Troupers do; in addition to being physically demanding and impressive, performing two shows a day requires a mental and emotional commitment as well, and getting to see fireworks was a great way to unwind! Because of the demanding schedule that the tour requires, it’s easy to lose track of things like the date, but the fireworks display reminded us that all is proceeding as usual in the outside world, and was a fun way to celebrate the 4th of July.